Day 275

Wednesday | November 28th, 2012

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It’s just that particiular point in the end of the semester crunch where things ramp up quickly and I’m suddenly a little busier than I was in all the previous weeks heading to this moment. Time and days are still wide open and leisureful, but certain deadline trump that leisure or at least skirt it for a bit.

Of the new things on regular plate are the specials of the autumn: Meierism and the big idea. Meierism generates a lot more paperwork and little things to do and turn in to other people’s desk (typed and prettified, of course), but it’s the big idea that commanded most of my day-off brain.

I had meeting with King Julien, JW, and CP (all of the PDF, of course) about my big idea. The meeting was both face time with King Julien and to fish around and see what the official backing for my big idea is really like. My big idea is basically this:

Our books suck. We barely use them because they suck. All books for adult students focus on the four skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking). While there’s nothing wrong with the four skills, the PDF only teaches two of those and the bulk of the PDF focuses only on speaking classes. Any and every book we grab is usually 75% wasted space. Why not build our own?

This is not a new idea. There is some great banana peeling floating around. Why not tap the resources and cook our own books?

Me being me, it took this little idea and made it bigger by drafting a proposal much like I did four years ago in my first few months of the CEC—but without the insane level of detail (I doubt to this day that anyone read all 29 pages of my carefully crafted document which redefined the words “anal”, “thorough”). No need to go overboard. I made a two pager (!) and a list of requirements for the cooks and a short list of targets.

I proposed a two year project to replace the junk that doesn’t really work with custom stuff that does. Then King Julien wanted results in one year, because unlike how it is in Madagascar, King Julien isn’t a self-appointed partymonster, instead he’s a mechanism on a 2-3 year rotation. It was suck for King Julien (from his pov) to throw weight behind a project that he couldn’t take credit for or reap its benefits (and there are many of those, including financial ones). I responded by rethinking things a little and because I want my big idea to gain traction and float, I conjured a way that the big idea would produce results within a year if I could pick a team to work with and if we started our cook soon.

Backing and interest for my big idea goes all the way to the front office. King Julien wants pretty books, not “hagwon books” (yeah, he said that and it was a dig). I swallowed it during the meeting, but I wonder if King Julien has kids or relatives with kids … the CEC is the place they would end up if he wanted them to be educated abroad. There aren’t many joints in Korea that does what the CEC does and can do it successfully year on year and still experience growth. The CEC is the kind of “hagwon” (and I use that term very, very loosely and only because King Julien used it) where celebraties send their kids, where chaebols execs send their kids, but King Julien doesn’t know that because like a lot of universityites in Korea, they think that the uni gig is the end all be all of education and all other places fall in this order: University, Public School, and shit. But these are the things one lets go when big ideas need to be floated. And his dig was not a new one. And the PDF is a dig-o-rama factory.

King Julien’s next big point is about plagiarism. My big idea can’t involve plagiarism. I am not allowed to plagiarize anything. I must check everything thoroughly for plagiarism, my team must check everything for plagiarism. In fact, King Julien expresses his doubts that we can cook books without plagiarism. It’s another slight, but this one is pretty funny since everyone who will be in the cook went to a real university in a Western country where they weren’t coddled to death and their professors weren’t obligated to hand out a fixed number of A+, A, B+, B. No, all the cooks in this big idea kitchen would have been expelled, lost their financial aid, or been denied their diplomas outright if they’d even been caught plagiarizing half of a sentence. Unlike Korean education culture and societal culture where I’m from copying gets your ass kicked, your life messed up, lands your ass in court, or other such calamities. Looking at my big idea, in this moment, through King Julien’s eyes, it’s clear that he is stressed about this and he should be, that’s all he knows.

With all of this out, including another side conversation about how I shouldn’t be the one in charge of this, how it should maybe be JW because I’m new (which is sort of a Korean way of saying ‘You don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.’). We shoot that down (admittedly, I didn’t see this curve ball coming, from the Caleb lacks experience angle, but this is one of the things I got sorted out on Sunday, just for other reasons). We defuse that grenade and get onto how we’re gonna kick this off. I float some alternate compensation ideas, one of which turns out to be illegal without changing out job titles (they don’t say that’s why, but I know that’s why; this is just another thing that doesn’t bare mentioning; besides never let the others know how much you know until it’s of your benefit to reveal that knowledge—apply to life, find success).

With alternate compensation dead on the table, the only thing left to tie up eight people and myself for two years while we cook awesome books is money. And this is where my big idea is currently stalled. Until the bean counters can figure out 1) how much they think they should pay us1 and 2) where in this godforsaken land that money will come from, no movement will take place on the big idea. I’m okay with that.

But, I also believe that this thing will fly … when the money can be worked out. And if for some reason it doesn’t, I’m of the mind when I woke up this morning: if this goes, I’m good—lots of experience, maintain killer CV; if it dies, I’m good—I’m enjoying my free time, stacking another optional project on eats away at that.

Later in the day, I topped off my un-off day-off with another meeting where another doomsy-naysayer talked about how hard it was to make audio files. The PDF factory is full of Flinstone Heads that still think computers are magically daunting and on the off chance they have a smartphone, they have no real perception of the power in their pocket. Consider this: my iPhone 4 is almost two and a half years old. This phone is as powerful, perhaps even a little more powerful than the 12inch Powerbook G4 I bought new in 2003. My phone makes .mp3s for breakfast. It has two microphones. I used it last year to record famous SLA/ESL asskickers giving lectures. Give me a sound proof room or a room with no people around dropping bowling balls and phone make audio files all day (grammar mistakes intentional). Not good enough? I have a laptop that is a gajillion times more powerful than the phone with recording software. Still not good enough? I already did this exact thing at the CEC.

This just wouldn’t be a very big idea if it was full of a bunch of little project no one, including me, had never done before. If that were the case, this would just be one of those great ideas that would die shortly or completely fall apart on the rails.

A big New Jersey salute to 2012. Off with you. Out with the old. Gone with the trash. Ejected with the pilot. The running theme of the year seems to be doubting that I can do what I say I can do.

For 2013, instead of New Year’s Resolutions, I’m going to write up a list of all the things I can’t do and email it to everyone in advance.

1 From the gate, I’ve tried to discourage the PDF from dangling money as incentive. I brought this up with King Julien as well: whatever they think is fair compensation, it likely won’t be as curriculum developers and editors typically get 10,000 – 20,000 a page. In preliminary discussions with a couple of people, it’s clear that money would have to be on the table before this would float. I’ve determined that it would take an average of an extra four hours a week to churn everything out and meet all twenty milestones over the next two years to put out 32 books (4 levels for 4 semesters, plus teachers’ books).

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